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BosNewsLife (01/10/06) – At least 27 Catholic church workers have been killed while on mission worldwide in 2005, including a nun murdered on December 28 in South Africa , a Catholic news agency reported Tuesday, January 10.

That number is almost double that of 2004, said the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA). The news agency said the latest victim was Swiss-born Sister Margaret Branchen, 74, a member of the Society of Saint Ursula of Brigue (Canton Valais).

She was shot dead in the small town of Ngqeleni , East Cape , on the premises of St. Mary’s Clinic where she served as a nurse and midwife. CISA quoted local officials as saying Branchen had been killed during a burglary.

The killing followed a series of killings of Catholics across the African continent, including three in Kenya and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo , one in Nigeria , Congo Brazaville and in South Africa , CISA said.

Days before the nun was killed, Salesian Priest Philip Valayam, 46, was murdered in the early hours of Christmas Day on December 25 as he returned to his community at Don Bosco Youth Educational Services in Nairobi, Kenya, after celebrating midnight mass, the news agency added. He was reportedly attacked by robbers and shot in a struggle to defend himself.

The continent of America registered the highest number of church personnel killed with reports that 8 priests, and four other church workers were killed. In Asia, three Catholic priests were murdered in India and one in Indonesia . Two priests died violently in Europe , CISA and other news sources said.

Among others killed was 85-year old Priest Thomas Richard Heath, a Dominican from the United States , who was on mission for 13 years in Kenya after ten in South Africa and Lesotho . He died on January 13 of gun shot wounds suffered on earlier that month during a robbery in the Community House in Kisumu, CISA reported.

Priest Rene de Haes, 72, a Belgian Jesuit, was shot dead by two armed men in the late evening of 7 May as he drove back to the college where he was living in Kimwenza district in Kinshasa , Democratic Republic of the Congo .

Bishop Luigi Locati, vicar apostolic of Isolo in north-east Kenya , was shot dead on July 14 in front of the pastoral centre, CISA said. He had been on mission in Kenya for 40 years where he was sent as a Fidei Donum priest. President Mwai Kibaki reportedly awarded him the Silver Star of Kenya in December.

Priest Godwin Okwesili, 42, a Nigerian, was shot dead on August 2 at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Yaba, Lagos , Catholic church sources said.

Some were killed while on a peace mission. In August, Priest Francois Djikulo of the Diocese of Manono tried to convince “the feared rebel leader Kyungu Kyungu, alias Gedeon, to stop terrorising the people,” CISA recalled.

“For months nothing was heard of his whereabouts, until November when it was known that Fr Djikulo and his companion Simon Kayimbi had been savagely mutilated and then burned alive,” the agency added.

Priest Angelo Redaelli, 40, was killed by a mob on September 12 after accidentally killing a small child with his car when the child ran unexpectedly into the road as he drove through a village in Congo Brazzaville, BosNewsLife and other news agencies reported earlier. Angelo had been on mission in Congo for two years.